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Travis Toews steps down as finance minister, throws hat into UCP leadership race

Click to play video: 'Travis Toews throws hat into UCP leadership race' Travis Toews throws hat into UCP leadership race
Finance Minister Travis Toews resigned from cabinet Tuesday, as he starts his campaign to replace Jason Kenney as United Conservative Party leader and Alberta's premier. Quinn Ohler reports. – May 31, 2022

There is officially one person in the race to replace Jason Kenney as the leader of Alberta’s United Conservative Party.

Travis Toews filed his paperwork to run for the party leadership on Monday, according to Elections Alberta.

“I am inspired by our movement, which is why I ran in 2019, and I believe that Albertans and our members can be inspired again,” Toews said in a news release.

“I’m running to lead our party back to the foundations that united us. It’s time to lay aside our differences to focus on our shared vision — a hopeful future for our children and grandchildren, on the foundation of a free and prosperous Alberta.”

Toews, the MLA for Grande Prairie-Wapiti, said he looks forward to connecting with Albertans across the province to discuss what matters to them and what they expect from their leader.

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“We must lead with strength and humility and return to the values that define us. We must take time to listen — to our members and to all Albertans, and we must learn from our missteps,” Toews said. “We are better together, stronger in our diversity and in our unity.”

Read more: Alberta Finance Minister Travis Toews not ruling out run for UCP leadership

Kenney said he received a call from Toews on Monday night, indicating his intention to pursue the leadership and step aside as finance minister.

“He’s done a great job in that role,” Kenney said.

“I will not be endorsing any candidates for the leadership. It’s, I think, entirely normal for a leader to avoid endorsing candidates. It’ll be for the members of the United Conservative Party to assess the candidates once they have a full field to make the decision of who they think can best lead the party and province in the future.”

The premier said he received Toews’ resignation letter Tuesday morning. A decision will be forthcoming on how to handle the finance minister position in an interim period, Kenney said.

“I anticipate there may be some other additional departures from executive council for people who will offer their names for the leadership of my party. And so my current thinking is perhaps to have interim ministers acting in those capacities until I know what the complete lay of the land is in terms of executive council going into the leadership race so I can make a small cabinet shuffle,” Kenney said.

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“At this point I’m looking at more interim positions until I know how many ministers may be stepping out.”

Two other cabinet ministers — Rajan Sawhney and Jason Nixon — have said they are considering running.

The party is working on the logistics of the race, but a date for the vote has not been selected.

Nearly two weeks ago, Kenney announced his intention to step down as UCP leader after receiving 51.4 per cent support in his leadership review vote. While it was enough under party rules to remain at the helm, Kenney said that was not adequate support to continue on as party leader.

Click to play video: 'Jason Kenney to stay on as Alberta’s UCP leader until replacement is chosen by the party' Jason Kenney to stay on as Alberta’s UCP leader until replacement is chosen by the party
Jason Kenney to stay on as Alberta’s UCP leader until replacement is chosen by the party – May 19, 2022

After a lengthy caucus meeting the next day, it was decided that Kenney would stay on as leader until a new leader is chosen.

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Read more: Alberta Premier Jason Kenney intends to step down as UCP leader after narrow leadership win

UCP backbencher Brian Jean and former Wildrose party Leader Danielle Smith have announced their intention to seek the UCP leadership.

Kenney said he believes the next leader will be able to keep the party united, adding it will be a lot easier to do outside of the COVID-19 context.

“Alberta has hit its stride, but in the middle of that we had the two tough years of COVID and it’s no secret that many freedom-loving, conservative-oriented Albertans resisted and disliked public health restrictions,” he said.

“It was very clear in the leadership review that we had a number of people who are very hostile to vaccines, and they made their statement on May 18. I respect that and I just hope that the leadership election and my successor will focus not on issues like that but on the priorities of Albertans — like economic growth — so we can make sustainable investments in critical public services.”

However, political scientist with Mount Royal University Duane Bratt, doesn’t believe unification will be so easy for the new leader.

“Governing conservatives federally and provincially is very difficult,” Bratt said.

“You have an urban-rural split, you have a social conservative versus the fiscal conservative split, you have those that simply want to govern versus those that want to radically transform the province, and getting all of those people all on one page is very difficult.”

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Bratt explained while Kenney was able to merge the parties based on “opposition to Rachel Notley and the NDP,” he added division soon emerged and he believes COVID-19 only exasperated those tensions. Now, Bratt believes a mutual dislike of the opposing party won’t be enough to keep a unified front.

“I think the forthcoming leadership race will test that even more,”Bratt said. “If someone of the experience and work ethic and competencies of a Jason Kenney couldn’t do this, who could?”

As of the time this article was published, Toews was the only candidate to officially file paperwork with Elections Alberta.

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